It’s the 21st century, and nobody would dare to argue that women can’t launch a career as an airline pilot, a barrister or a surgeon. However, some people express surprise when it comes to men doing work traditionally associated with women, such as care.
The fact is that, while caring and the tasks related to it are typically associated with women, men can equally be highly effective, nurturing and efficient carers. A lot of elderly and disabled men actually prefer to receive their care from men rather than women, especially when it is personal care such as help bathing, going to the toilet or getting dressed.
Only 16% of professional carers are currently men. As the UK’s population of over 85s is predicted to grow by 106% in the next 20 years, the number of carers overall will likely increase as well. It is expected that 2 million new carers will be required. If the proportion of men in the profession also grows, the number of men employed as carers and care workers could be considerable. Even if the percentage of male caregivers stays the same, that is still an additional 320,000 male carers in positions across the country.
Professional male carer jobs and gender roles
There is nothing inherently female about the skills required by a good carer. Skills like managing medication, preparing food, assisting with personal care and helping people to move about may be required, as well as empathy and commitment.
Some of these skills, such as being a sensitive person or managing personal care, may be more traditionally associated with women. But others, such as helping a person move around or lifting somebody from a chair or bed, are skills that rely on qualities more generally associated with men, such as bodily strength.
Traditional gender roles are changing throughout society, so men moving into the professional care space are adapting with them. The fact is that this is a position that any determined adult can fulfil, as long as they have the capabilities required. Their gender should not prevent them from aspiring to do this job, nor should they let stereotypes about what a “typical carer” looks like get in their way.
There are many examples of men succeeding in jobs and tasks traditionally associated with women. For example, many talented cooks and award-winning chefs are men. It is also now acknowledged that men are more than capable of the same sensitivity and compassion as women! There are plenty of dedicated men who take on caring roles in their private life - as siblings, fathers, sons or friends - who are as qualified and empathetic as women with the same experiences.
Many people think that male caregivers are not allowed to look after female clients, but there are no regulations concerning gender when it comes to providing quality care to both male and female clients. However, according to the Health and Social Care Act 2008 (Regulation 9), people who receive care have the right to express preferences as for who looks after them (including the carer’s gender).
In fact, there are certainly times when male carers feel their gender helps them to do a better job. Imagine a scenario where a disabled man has fallen and cannot lift himself up. His male carer arrives for his shift and is able to lift him appropriately so he can get back into his wheelchair or seat. That is not to say that female carers are unable to lift, but typically physical strength is linked to size, and disabled and elderly clients may feel more confident in a man lifting them from the floor after a fall than they would a woman.
We all enjoy spending time with people we can relate to, or who have shared interests - and many men (and indeed some women!) will find this easier with male carers. Younger disabled people are usually particularly welcoming of diversity in their carers and personal assistants, although older people may feel more comfortable with the more stereotypical gender breakdown in their care staff.
What does a male caregiver job involve?
The majority of the time, being a male carer is exactly the same as being a female carer. It involves doing the work that a disabled or elderly person needs you to do so that they can lead as independent a life as possible. This might include helping somebody to take a bath, helping them to get into their car to go to work, getting their medication out of its packaging, or doing their weekly shop. A carer’s role is to make their clients’ lives as unimpaired by their age or disabilities as possible.
For some male carers, there is a steep learning curve because they are not accustomed to cooking and cleaning for others - although this is also the case for many women! The world is changing, and these skills are increasingly passed on to children and young people of all genders.
Awareness and recognition of male carers
Male carers make up an important proportion of the carers whose job it is to look after elderly and disabled people in the UK. It is therefore vital to ensure that men apply for carer positions. Encouraging men into the profession and acknowledging those who are already doing this work will help to reduce the disparity in numbers.
Part of this task involves breaking down the pigeonholing that makes people think that this is a job for women only, and making it known that men can – and do – do this job successfully. When men know that they can get job satisfaction from being a male caregiver, and are encouraged to apply for jobs that suit them, the only remaining challenge is to land that perfect job.
It is sad to say that, currently, some men may find it difficult to get a male carer job. This is perhaps because some recruiters believe in the stereotype that it is a role more suited to women, but this is no excuse for discrimination. With persistence and finding the right organisation to apply to, a man who wants to become a carer or a personal assistant can find the position they are suited to, and start to develop those cherished relationships with their clients and their families.
Unpaid male carers for family members
42% of unpaid carers for family members are men. For family members or friends who care for an elderly or disabled person without being paid, the hours are long and the tasks are often thankless, especially for live-in carers. There are few protections under the law, for this is not classed as employment, and health services can be slow to recognise the vital role of the carer in the life of a patient.
It is interesting that the proportion of unpaid carers who are men is so much more equal than the proportion of paid carers who are men, especially as the stereotypes around this role are the same in both cases. Research by Carers Trust and The Men’s Health Forum has shown that unpaid male carers do not tell other people what they do, while half of male carers feel that their needs are different to those of female carers. Male carers reported that taking on domestic tasks previously undertaken by the person they care for can be challenging, as well as providing intimate care.
Unpaid carers of both genders feel their health suffers and that they are prone to depression due to their caring responsibilities. They also feel they have little choice about fulfilling this caring role for their relative or parent. After all, if they don’t do it, who will?
Seeking emotional and practical support is something that male carers in particular can find difficult to do. However, if they are to remain healthy and able to provide the care that is needed, it is vital that they feel able to ask for help. The carer must take responsibility for their own wellbeing as well, in order to continue to nurture and look after somebody vulnerable.
Care communities and forums such as Carers UK, Caring.com, My Ageing Parent, Dementia Forum and Talking Point (for dementia) are a good place to find support during difficult times. There are also a large number of charities organising regular meetups across the UK, such as Macmillan, Parkinson’s UK and Age UK.
The future of being a male carer
As more and more carers will be needed to look after an ageing population, it is vital for society to attract more men into the career of professional caregiving. Over time, we believe that the gendered expectations that women are carers and men take up different roles will reduce, and men will be recognised as equally capable of carrying out a caring position.
How to succeed as a male carer
Challenge the gender stereotypes. If you see a job advertised you are qualified for, and feel they have defaulted to hiring a female carer, get in touch and ask whether they are also looking for men for the job.
Specialised services like SuperCarers, which matches up carers with recipients of care, can help you find care seekers that are specifically looking for male carers.
You are looking after other people all day, so don’t forget to look after yourself, too. Don’t let the stress of the job overwhelm you. It can be demanding, but asking for help and support when you need it will make a big difference.
Look out for a male carer community, where you can seek support from others in the same role as you, who can offer and receive advice and help when needed. The internet is a great source of support communities for all kinds of people.